Labour bids for 'fed up' claimants

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 05:00 03/03/2014

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The Labour party has launched a bid to lure "sick and tired" Canterbury voters, offering $2 million to fund test cases against insurance firms and the Earthquake Commission (EQC).

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has dismissed the idea as "cynical" and "opportunistic". Last night he called for more detail from Labour leader David Cunliffe on the insurance problems so they could be solved outside the courts.

Cunliffe revealed yesterday that, if elected, he would "stand with Cantabrians who are being unfairly treated" and "trapped in limbo" by funding cases that would establish precedent and certainty.

"Cantabrians are sick and tired of the time it is taking to get insurance sorted. It's three years on and still serious issues remain. In some cases people are being unfairly treated but it is unclear what rights they have."

A Labour-led government would commit about $2m for legal cases, both against insurance companies and EQC.

It would work with Crown Law, local electorate offices, the Christchurch City Council and the community to determine cases where there might have been a mistreatment of the claimant throughout the process.

"These cases will help to clarify the law, remove blockages and help get things moving," Cunliffe said.

"Labour will also make sure insurance companies have strong local competition by introducing KiwiAssure, a KiwiBank-style company for the insurance sector."

Brownlee said the proposal was "incredibly cynical".

"The danger here is that you are effectively saying these issues can only be solved in the courts. I am not convinced of that. They are very expensive and take a very long time," he said.

"Rather than coming along and saying here is $2m, why don't they say what the problems are and what issues need to be sorted. We would want to get them sorted as much as the Labour Party.

"He needs to specify what the problems are, because there may be a quicker way of sorting them out.

"It is a nightmare for people, I know that, but for many people it is quite straightforward and the numbers would suggest that."

He also said the $2m would not go very far in legal action.

Canterbury Communities' Earthquake Recovery Network spokeswoman Leanne Curtis said there needed to be certainty about insurance matters.

"The concept of taking the opportunity to actually legally set some goalposts around insurance interpretation is good. I think there would be lots of people here that would think it's a good idea."

But the money would be better spent on precedent cases than offering a "gravy train" to lawyers acting on individual cases.

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Insurance lawyer and Labour member Duncan Webb said test cases were "absolutely needed", as there were so many questions around what terms like "as new" meant.

Insurers had money, expertise and time, he said, while homeowners did not. "Because of that questions aren't being asked and aren't being answered."

The Government established the free Residential Advisory Service in May to help Cantabrians resolve insurance-related issues.

- The Press

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